WORCESTER, MA – City Manager Eric D. Batista, Mayor Joseph M. Petty, the Worcester City Council, and the City’s Cultural Development Division have announced the appointment of Oliver de la Paz as the City of Worcester’s next Poet Laureate.
The award-winning poet and literary educator will serve from January 2023 to December 2025. De la Paz is the author of several published works, including The Boy in the Labyrinth (2019), Post Subject: A Fable (2014), Requiem for the Orchard (2010), Furious Lullaby (2007), and Names Above Houses (2001).
De la Paz’s first official appearance as Worcester’s Poet Laureate will be at City Manager Eric D. Batista’s Swearing-In Ceremony on Friday, Jan. 6 in the Levi Lincoln Chamber at City Hall beginning at 4 p.m. A formal event to recognize de la Paz will be announced at a later date, where he will be presented with a ceremonial medal created by local metal artist Pam Farren.
“I am thrilled to begin my term as City Manager alongside such a talented and distinguished poet. I look forward to Oliver’s tenure as the Worcester Poet Laureate and cannot wait to see what literary impact he has in store for our community,” said City Manager Eric D. Batista.
In his application to the Poet Laureate program, de la Paz noted that his work tells stories of his own family’s immigration. He hopes that these existing works will help him to “serve as a literary model for up-and-coming wordsmiths through writing workshops in conjunction with library programming for people who may not have had the opportunity to share their truths.”
Education has long been a focus for de la Paz. He earned degrees in Biology and English Literature from Loyola Marymount University and received his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Arizona State University, where he was a University Graduate Scholar Fellowship Awardee. De la Paz has since taught at several universities and is currently an Associate Professor at the College of the Holy Cross.
As Poet Laureate, de la Paz looks forward to using his experiences as a poet, as an educator, and in the wider literary community to expand access to the arts in Worcester. He was a founding member of Kundiman, a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting Asian-American writing. He served two terms on the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Board of Trustees. Other recognitions de la Paz has been awarded includes grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, an Artist Trust GAP Grant, and a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.
“I am a citizen of this community who is a lover of books and reading,” de la Paz wrote in his application. “Worcester has a storied history of having great poets live within the community, from Stanley Kunitz to Elizabeth Bishop to Chris Gilbert. I wish to teach the community about these poets whose works were profoundly influenced by this landscape.”
In addition to sharing their poetry and creating new works during their term, the Worcester Poet Laureate also serves as a mentor to the Worcester Youth Poet Laureate. Local poet and community activist Adael Mejia will continue to serve as Youth Poet Laureate until his two-year term ends in December 2023. De la Paz succeeds outgoing Poet Laureate Juan Matos, who served in the position from January 2020 to December 2022.
Reflecting on Matos’ tenure as Poet Laureate, Yaffa Fain of the City’s Cultural Development Division said he did “tremendous work,” having participated in “countless community readings, workshops in Worcester Public Schools and with the community, from the Worcester Senior Center to the Worcester Public Library to hours on Zoom. Juan is a poetic powerhouse and has served with compassion, resilience, and incredible dedication.”
“This transition is bittersweet. We’ll miss working with Juan regularly but wish him well in his next verse, which will include continuing to work with young poets in Worcester. We are looking forward to helping Oliver develop plans for his term as Poet Laureate, and to what he and Adael will accomplish together,” added Nikki Erskine, also of the City’s Cultural Development Division.
The Worcester Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate programs are initiatives of the City’s Cultural Development Division. Both Poets Laureate serve as official ambassadors to Worcester’s historic and vibrant cultures of poetry and literary arts, using their positions to share the transformative qualities of poetry and the written word, to celebrate and amplify the City’s great writers, and to help shape the next generation of literary enthusiasts.
The objectives of the City of Worcester’s Poet Laureate Programs are to:
- Enhance the presence and appreciation of poetry and literary arts in Greater Worcester;
- Celebrate the spirit of the people and special qualities of Worcester, the Creative City;
- Raise awareness of the power of literature, poetry, and the spoken word;
- Provide a forum for collaborative art forms;
- Engage and support an emerging generation of poets and spoken word artists;
- Provide access to poetry and literary arts to all sectors of the community; and
- Encourage the reading and writing of both poetry and the written word.
A four-person committee reviewed dozens of applications to the Poet Laureate program:
- Jason Homer: Worcester Public Library Executive Director, participant in American Library Association Leadership Institute, Master’s Degree in Library Science from Simmons University, Bachelor of Arts in English from Stonehill College.
- John Hodgen: Winner of multiple awards in poetry, author of Grace, In My Father’s House, and Bread Without Sorrow, visiting Assistant Professor of English at Assumption College.
- Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez: Award winning poet, recipient of multiple fellowships, author of La Pava and Edge Beast, Associate Professor of Practice in Creative Writing at Clark University, where they founded and run the Clark Poets and Writers Reading Series.
- Therese Gleason Carr: Board member of the Worcester County Poetry Association, author of poetry chapbooks Libation and Matrilineal, featured poet in multiple publications, multiple-award nominee, Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Pacific University.
For information about the Worcester Poet Laureate Program: www.worcesterma.gov/cultural-development/poet
For Worcester Poet Laureate appearance requests and scheduling: forms.gle/VJmYjFhcPLRk8SMh9
Worcester Poet Laureate Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WorcesterPoet
Worcester Youth Poet Laureate page: www.facebook.com/WorcesterYouthPoet